About Bees

Bees are beautiful and important little creatures, loved by all, but they are also creatures that we depend on for a lot, and are largely taken for granted. Bees come in all different shapes, sizes colours and species over 20,000 in fact! It is largely known, that if we didn’t have bees, humans would be in huge trouble. We risk massive chunk of our global food supply and many other things that we rely on Bees for, such as cotton. This section is aiming at giving you a brief insight into a Bee’s world and some of the topics and concerns and why they are so important.

Wild bees in Great Britain

When you mention bees most people think of the honeybee, buzzing around flowers, busily collecting pollen and nectar to take back to the hive but in Great Britain we have over 270 species of bee, with honeybees being just one of them. There are currently 1 species of honeybee, 24 species of bumblebee and the remainder being the solitary bees in Great Britain. Many people are also surprised that around a quarter of our bee species do not collect pollen or create nests of their own and are ‘cuckoo’ bees or that some of our ‘solitary’ bees have some degree of sociality. Some bees are just mms long or look more like wasps, some bees dig their nests in the ground while some prefer to nest in cavities above the ground. Some use mud to create their nests while some use leaves to carefully create a safe cell for their young and some even use the ‘wool’ scraped off the leaves of hairy plants such as lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina). Some bees emerge as early as late February/early March while some bees emerge much later in late August/early September.

As you can see the needs of our wild bees are diverse and varied but all bees need food, shelter and a safe place to raise their offspring. This is what ‘Bee Sanctuary Movement’ hopes to offer at Highfield Country Park. 

Karen M – County Recorder for aculeate Hymenoptera for Greater Manchester and recorder/verifier of aculeate Hymenoptera covering Greater Manchester for GMLRC (Greater Manchester Local Records Centre) and LWT (Lancashire Wildlife Trust)

Species – What are the different types?

Around 250 species of bee have been recorded in the UK and 20,000 globally. You might be surprised to know, that the majority of Honeybees are kept by beekeepers in colonies in hives that are managed and the rest of our bees are wild, which includes 25 different types of bumblebee and over 220 types of solitary bee. There are three main different types of Bee species, read more in this section to find out more about them.

Solitary Bees

These include mining and Mason Bees. Solitary bees, unsurprisingly have a tendency to nest on their own. Every female has to build and provision her own nest with food. Solitary Bees also include Mining Bees which have nests in burrows in the ground, along with Mason bees and Leafcutter bees that nest in holes in dead wood, wood, walls and banks. The Solitary types generally live for around a year and vary hugely so it can be different to tell one from another.

All the Solitary Bees often come in all different shapes and sizes, all have a different preference in nest sites, and species emerge at different times depending on food source availability. Around 70% are mining bees and nest in underground burrows. Bees that nest in houses are called cavity nesting bees.

Bumble Bees

Bumblebees live in social colonies just like Honey Bees, normally they live in holes in the ground or tree cavities and colony numbers can be up to 200 workers. These tend to be quite large and they are larger than honeybees, and although they do produce honey, it is not as much as the Honey Bee. Bumble bees are commonly black with varying degrees of yellow banding. Common bumblebees that we see in the UK are the garden bumble, buff-tailed, red- tailed, and white-tailed and field bumblebees.

When a Bumble Bee Queen first emerges it will build a nest of dried grasses and then lays around a dozen eggs that hatch into worker females. A worker’s purpose is to collect pollen and nectar to feed later batches of grubs. New queens and males hatch at the end of the season and mate. The males, workers and old queens die; new queens hibernate.

Honey Bees

Honey Bees are the Bees known for living in large social colonies. These are the most famous species of Bee and are known for making honey from pollen and nectar collected from flowers. Honey Bee colonies consist of having one queen, many sterile females’ workers and a few male drones.

When a Bumble Queen emerges, she embarks on a mating flight. When she eventually gets back to the hive, she kills the failing, old queen, with help from some of the workers. However, sometimes, before the new queen emerges, the old queen may leave with some of her workers to start a new colony. Honey bees that live in the wild will often swarm to find a new nest, generally in hollow trees.

Honey Bee Queens can live for a number of years, but female workers born in the summer only live for a few weeks. Workers that are born later can normally survive, and get through the winter by huddling together with the queen, and eating stored food. However, there is no place for Male Drones in the Hive at winter time and they are kicked out in the autumn and left to die.

Support Wild Bees!

This chart shows that Wild Bees are The Boss! when it comes to pollination 

pie chart
Image copyright Stuart Roberts

The Bee Sanctuary Movement wants to provide the biodiversity and capacity in flowering species to support the wild bees. We do not have Bee Hives on our Sanctuaries as we are not Bee Keepers. Each Bee Hive produces more honey than the bees require, and the vast numbers of honey bees are active throughout the season, they could pose a threat to the survival of our wild Bee species through competition, unless we have enough flowers for all!